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Music and dances

Dance and music in Morocco: the most surprising folklore

One of the most pleasant surprises for a traveler in Morocco is to discover its folklore, especially its dance and music. It stands out for its variety, as the rhythms, movements and costumes are very different from one region to another. In addition, they express emotions in a very sincere and original way, often related to religion, but not only. In these lines you can learn more about Moroccan dance and music, two folkloric demonstrations that are closely related to each other.

Table of Contents

Dance in Morocco: folklore in its purest form

To discover the traditional dances of Morocco, it is necessary to make a trip throughout its national geography, since in most cases they are dances strongly associated with a specific region. This journey takes us to the desert, the Atlas, the Atlantic coast and the big cities.

Shikhat: Moroccan belly dancing

Many travelers come to Morocco and wish to see a belly dance show. But it must be said that this dance does not originate from this country, but from other countries in the Middle East. On the other hand, there is a Moroccan version of this female dance, the Shikhat, which is widespread in the main cities of Morocco, such as Casablanca and Rabat.

In Shikhat, the protagonists are also women, who from the stage perform undulating movements, with pelvic thrusts, hip shaking and other gestures that can be considered more or less sensual. However, these dancers do not show their bellies, but cover them with elegant kaftan-type dresses with sequins and bright colors, loose-fitting, not tight.

Guedra, the dance of the kneeling woman

Guedra is one of the most unique dances, due to its development and presentation. It originated in the extreme south of the country, in Guelmim, and later spread across the desert. The protagonist is always a woman, who begins the dance kneeling and with her head covered with a veil, from which hang numerous shells. She progressively increases the energy of her movements, encouraged by the chorus of people, mainly men, around her. By the end of the dance, the dancer will have stood up and uncovered her face, dismissing her performance with a striking tongue sound.

Ahidous, the Berber or Amazigh dance par excellence

The Ahidous is much more than a dance: it is a sign of identity of the Berber or Amazigh population, which represents a very significant percentage of the population of Morocco, especially south of the Atlas Mountains. Precisely in these mountains, especially on the southern slopes, this dance is very popular.

It is danced in a group, with men and women: they are in charge of providing percussion with drums and tambourines of the type
bandir
that go
in crescendo
The women, who end up unleashing their dance in an energetic way, are encouraged to do so. It is believed that its origin is related to the celebration of the harvest each year, in an area where it is of vital importance that agriculture bears fruit correctly each year.

Gnawa, a World Heritage dance

We leave for the end the gnawa dance, but not for lack of importance, far from it. In fact, it is a dance that can boast of being declared Intangible Heritage of Humanity by Unesco. In fact, its origins lie outside Morocco, as it is believed to have been introduced by slaves brought from the other side of the Sahara, i.e. from the Sudan or the Sahel. It has thus taken root in the south of the country, in a vast area stretching from the heart of the desert (Merzouga) to the southern Atlantic coast.

It can be witnessed in small villages, such as Khamlia, but also in cities in the area, especially in Essaouira. It is a dance full of energy and dynamism, where there is no lack of acrobatics of men, all among tribal percussion rhythms, accompanied by traditional string and wind instruments.

Other typical dances of Morocco

The above are the main folk dances of Morocco, but in reality there are many others. We mention them below, in case you have the opportunity to witness one of them:

  • Khamsa We Khamsine: from the interior of Morocco. It is a dance full of spirituality, where the dancers wear colorful dresses.
  • Taskiwin: from the High Atlas. It could be a dance of warrior origin
  • Ouais: dance performed by a woman, as a ballet on Arabic music.

Music from Morocco

Without music there is no dance. Therefore, it is essential to give here a few touches of Moroccan music, either for its association with dance or as a cultural expression in itself. And again, the variety of music is very large, as a result of the mix of cultures that have historically existed in Morocco. The following is a brief review.

Different trends and styles

Depending on their cultural basis, their history or their function, we can speak of different musical currents in Morocco:

  • Popular music: it is the one passed down from parents to children, sung in dialectal Arabic (darija) and often performed spontaneously when a community gathers. Aïta (Marrakech) or N’fir (religious events) are some examples.
  • Berber or Amazigh music: settled in the Atlas and south of these mountains, it is addressed to God or to nature, and the tambourine
    bendir
    is always there to set the pace. Their lyrics are usually written in Berber dialects.
  • Andalusian or classical music: this is very refined music, brought here from Al-Andalus (southern Spain) during a period of exodus from the neighboring country. Cultured Arabic is used and is represented in cities such as Fez and Rabat. Some of its instruments already used since its origins are the
    oud
    or the
    rabab
    precursors of the lute and the rabel, respectively.
  • Gnawa music: this is the music that accompanies the gnawa dance, which we talked about above. Its instrumentation usually relies on the
    qraqab
    or metallic castanets, and to the
    gimbri
    a kind of three-string bass. Drums are also commonly used
    tbel
    e a bagpipe or Moroccan oboe
  • Sufi music: this is a music that is not exclusive to Morocco, but common to other Muslim countries, as it is a devotional chant without instruments, which aims at mystical exaltation.

Music today

The previous dances and music have a traditional and folkloric character, but the truth is that today’s society, with the new generations at the forefront, has its own way, not always close to the styles mentioned above. What can be considered as ‘modern music’ brings together different currents, some with a very clear international character.

For example, rap is a widespread genre in Morocco, which seems to fit very well with the musicality of the Arabic language, and in particular the local dialect, Darija. The rai, often called the blues of the Maghreb (it is also popular in Algeria) because of its lament-like lyrics, is also very popular. In addition, the latter genre often lends itself to fusion with other styles, such as jazz, techno or rock.

Where to see the dance and music of Morocco

Unlike the monuments, museums and natural landscapes, the dance and music of Morocco are not always ‘there’, you don’t always have the chance to see and enjoy them as a spectator. In fact, if not properly planned, it is difficult to witness such a show. Therefore, if you are interested in witnessing one of these cultural manifestations, you can take note of the following suggestions.

The first is to contract a travel package with Chic Morocco that includes one of these folkloric demonstrations. In many of our desert tours, we include a Gnawa music show in the village of Khamlia, famous for the abundant presence of black people who keep this folklore intact. But you can also expressly ask us to include a music and dance performance, since it is possible to organize a concert or performance in a hotel ballroom or other suitable venue.

The second proposal is to attend a traditional music festivalThe most important of these events are organized in Morocco, especially in spring and summer. These are just some of the most important on the calendar:

  • Festival of Sacred Music of Fez: here it is possible to listen to Sufi music, but also many others from all over the world, as it has an international character. The only important and necessary thing is that it fosters spirituality.
  • Festival of Popular Music of Agadir: it is a good opportunity to get to know the sounds and rhythms of Berber or Amazigh music, although there are also guest groups from other Moroccan regions. Therefore, it is one of the most complete for local music.
  • Essaouira Gnawa Music Festival: it is the big event for this genre protected by Unesco. It takes place in this beautiful Atlantic city, with its epicenter in Moulay Hassan Square, although it has also been relocated with performances in Rabat and Marrakech.
  • Rai Music Festival in Oujda: the most important to know this genre. In fact, it is held in a city very close to the land border with Algeria (although it has been closed for many years due to diplomatic problems).

And the third and last proposal is to go to a museum going to a museum. If you are passionate about world folk music, you can find out more at one of these cultural, exhibition and research centers. In this regard, the National Museum of Music of Morocco, located in Marrakech, stands out above all others. In its rooms you can contemplate historical instruments, visit temporary exhibitions on a genre or artist and, of course, listen to iconic musical pieces for Moroccan folklore.

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